Public Services International (PSI), an international union federation, is calling on its affiliates to send letters of protest to the Salvadoran government following the arrest of 8 members of the executive board of the Trade Union of Nursing Workers of El Salvador, SIGEESAL, members of the Salvadoran Trade Union Front (Frente Sindical Salvadoreno). The union leaders were arrested in the city of Ahuchapan and Santa Ana, early in the morning of September 4 by members of the National Police. There are also arrest warrants issued against other union leaders as well.
The arrests were a result of solidarity actions undertaken by SIGEESAL members in support of other union members in the Department of San Vicente. In San Vicente, the union had called for work stoppages in the administration of the National Hospital of Santa Gertrudis and other health units to protest against privatisation of health services and the acute shortages of medicines in public health clinics. The SIGEESAL union in San Vicente had also denounced embezzlement and misuse of funds on the part of the regional public health director, Manual Abarca. SIGEESAL branches throughout El Salvador participated in these protests.
These earlier protests took place on July 6. The director general of the hospital services, Dr Alcides Urbina, called union representatives for a meeting on July 9, and agreed to enter negotiations to discuss unionists' demands and to open an inquiry into the charges of embezzlement. He also agreed that there would be no reprisals against those who took part in the July 6 actions.
However, in Santa Ana, these commitments have not been honoured. The eight people arrested have been accused under new terrorist legislation, Ley Especial Contra Actos de Terrorismo. The health workers arrested are Ana Luz Ordonez Castro, Mirian Ruth Castro Lemus, Elsa Yanira Paniagua, Noemí Barrientos de Perez, Ana Graciela de Carranza, Jorge Emilio Pérez, Manuel Trejo Artero and Anemias Armando Cantadeiro.
SIGEESAL has only recently managed to obtain legal registration. It has become known for its campaign to oppose the privatisation of public health services and calls for increased investment in quality health services for all.
PSI has sent a protest letter to the Salvadoran government calling for their release, an end to the harassment and intimidation of union leaders and full guarantees for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Visit http://www.world-psi.org/urgentaction for more information and to send messages of solidarity.